Monthly Archives: October 2019

Chinese redevelopment of Solomon Islands’ Gold Ridge mine dubbed ‘way over the top’

PHOTO: The Gold Ridge mine has a long and chequered history.

Key points:

  • The deal follows a month after the Solomon Islands switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing
  • The Solomon Islands will not own the new infrastructure
  • The former Australian-listed company that owned the mine sold it to local landowners for $100 in 2015

ABC News | 30 October 2019

Chinese companies will build and control power and port facilities, roads, rail and bridges on an island within the Solomon Islands, as part of an $825 million deal to revive an abandoned gold mine, according to new contract details.

The gold project agreement, described by Chinese ambassador Xue Bing as an “early harvest” of the new diplomatic tie-up between Beijing and Honiara, gives Chinese interests an increased foothold in the Pacific, long under the influence of the United States and its allies.

While locals initially expressed fears the Gold Ridge mine deal would saddle the island nation with debt, those attending a weekend ceremony at the mine site were told the Solomons would not pay for the project infrastructure.

Nor will the country own the infrastructure.

A company majority-owned by Hong Kong-listed Wanguo International Mining, which has the project rights, will retain ownership of any project related-infrastructure, according to the project terms presented to attendees.

Wanguo has contracted state-owned China State Railway Group $825 million to complete the works over several phases.

The previous owner, Australian-listed St. Barbara, sold the mine for a nominal $100 to a landowner group in 2015, and that group went on to secure interest from Australian-based Chinese company AXF Resources, and then Wanguo.

Those attending the ceremony at the mine site, located about 30km south of Honiara, were told the large contract would involve a significant infrastructure component beyond the immediate mine site.

“Only China, proceeding from the friendship and wellbeing of the local people, is ready to overcome all obstacles to undertake this project by planning to build roads, bridges mining facilities and a hydropower station,” Mr Xue said, according to the recording.

A separate announcement from China Rail in September also said the contract included port work.

The infrastructure will be built in and around Honiara on the island of Guadalcanal, a strategic Pacific location that saw fierce fighting in World War II.

While the Solomons government, China Rail and the project operators have denied any political involvement in the mining deal, it was presented at the project ceremony as an example of what the new relationship between China and Solomons can deliver.

The agreement was announced in mid-September, coinciding with a decision by the Solomons Government to switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing, angering the United States in the process.

“This is not only a new beginning of the Gold Ridge mine, but also a very important early harvest of the friendly cooperation between China and Solomon Islands which established diplomatic relations just 35 days ago,” said Mr Xue, who is the Chinese ambassador to Papua New Guinea.

Solomons landowners and politicians, Chinese officials, and representatives of China Rail and Wanguo were at the ceremony, said a source who attended.

Solomon representatives were repeatedly reassured the Pacific nation would not be subjected to a “debt-trap”, an allegation used against China by the United States.

Wanguo did not immediately respond to questions. The Solomons Government, which did not immediately respond to questions on Wednesday, has previously said it was a private sector deal and was not privy to the commercial arrangements.

Solomons opposition lawmaker Peter Kenilorea said the Gold Ridge agreement was opaque and its terms needed to be better explained.

The size of the contract has perplexed mining analysts, given past private operators have struggled to make the mine profitable.

Independent Australian-based mining analyst Peter Strachan said the agreement was “way over the top” for a relatively low-grade gold project with modest reserves.

“There has to be some back story on this,” said Mr Strachan, who has visited the Guadalcanal mine site.

The troubled Gold Ridge mine last operated in 2014, before severe floods halted production.

At its peak it was the source of 30 per cent of GDP in the Solomons, which is largely reliant on timber exports. Solomons GDP was at $1.4 billion last year, according to World Bank data, making it one of the world’s smallest economies.

The project owners have not released an anticipated date the project will restart.

Walton Naezon, chairman of the Gold Ridge landowner group, said the Gold Ridge deal was a commercial arrangement with no political input.

He said the project’s two other equity owners, Wanguo and AXF Resources, were raising $275 million to pay China Rail to bring the mine back into production.

“The balance is the second phase to be approved, which includes things like underground work,” Mr Naezon said, referring to the remainder of the $825 million contract.

“China Rail will bring their own machines. They will employ 70 per cent local labour and the rest will be their own staff.”

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Controversial Ramu mine reopens but locals unhappy

Two hundred thousand litres of toxic slurry spilled into the ocean in August from the mine’s Basamuk refinery, turning the sea red. Photo: Facebook/ Elisha Wesley Mizeu

Benjamin Robinson-Drawbridge | Radio New Zealand | 29 October 2019

The controversial Ramu nickel mine in Papua New Guinea’s Madang province is back in operation after being closed following a slurry spill.

The Post Courier reported the Mineral Resources Authority had granted permission for the miner to resume operations last Friday less than a week after being shut down by the government.

The authority said its inspectors found the miner had rectified defects and put in place measures to ensure any water from the processing plant was captured and pumped into its tailings treatment facility.

A fishing ban remains in place on the Rai Coast where locals said large marine mammals and fish had washed up dead following the spill.

A community health worker from the Saidor health centre, Lynette Dawo, said those included a dolphin, a turtle, a dugong and a school of tuna.

“We encountered a very big dolphin. It just washed up on the shore to our own beach. A very big one. They buried it and reported it to the marine people. They came and told them to dig it up and when they dug it up they just cut off the intestines and took it away. But after all they didn’t even report to us and tell us what will happen,” Ms Dawo said.

“And then we had a big turtle that died and washed up to the shore. And then another dugong died, washed up to the shore. And then we had about 27 tuna, the very big ones, they all died same time and just washed up to the shore and people got them and buried them,” she said.

Coastal housing in Madang province. Photo: RNZ/Johnny Blades

Rai Coast locals were struggling without sustenance from the ocean, Ms Dawo said.

“Now people are suffering, no fish to eat. Our main source of protein we getting from the sea but they stopped it. People are all suffering especially those ones who live on the coast who mainly live on fish,” she said.

Also from Saidor, Norman Nayak said without the ability to catch fish, Rai Coast fishermen were out of pocket.

“People along the coast depend heavily on fish. They sell to the markets, they harvest fish for daily meals,” Mr Nayak said.

“People are scared. They feel that to visit the sea or get something out of the sea is very dangerous, very risky.”

The area has been declared safe for swimming but Ms Dawo said fear of the sea persisted after children developed skin irritations while bathing during the spill.

“Kids went down to the sea to have their washing. They were touched by this acid or poison from the sea and they developed a skin itchiness. Now we told all the kids not to go and wash in the sea,” she said.

Other swimmers had been more severely affected, Ms Dawo claimed.

“Three young girls went diving in the sea and when they came out they were screaming for their skin itchiness all over. People rushed over and told them to go the river and wash with fresh water. Later on blisters formed on their skin.”

Large-scale and small-scale fishing in the waters off Madang in Papua New Guinea. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

The mine is operated by MCC (Metallurgical Corporation of China) and majority owned by MCC Ramu NiCo Ltd, which told the Post Courier it was grateful to the mining authority for its guidance to rectify faults and for allowing it to resume operations at the processing plant.

“For the mines inspectorate to give us permission to operate after a week of temporary shutdown demonstrates the trust they have in us that we have built over the last 10 years,” the miner said.

“We want to tell the people of Madang and PNG that Ramu NiCo is a reputable investor in PNG and remains committed to share the benefits from the project with every stakeholder, including the national government.”

But according to Ms Dawo and Mr Nayak, benefits had not been shared with people living around the mine.

“We were all excited thinking it would be a change to bring development into the area. We were thinking that they would help constructing bridges and making improvement in the infrastructure there but nothing has happened so far,” Mr Nayak said.

“Recently with the spill, seeing the ocean getting red, people were so scared and shouting ‘government has to put a stop to this mining’. It has brought nothing, no development to the locals,” he said.

Ms Dawo said people had become so frustrated they could retaliate against the miner.

“This company is one of the greediest companies, doesn’t provide anything good for the people. There’s no roads. Nothing good is done. There’s primary schools, we have two secondary high schools here but they don’t even support anything. Our health centre is run down, they are doing nothing.

“That’s one of the greediest companies working here in Papua New Guinea.”

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Madang Locals call for Third Independent investigation in Ramu Mine Spill

NBC News /ONE PNG | 29 October 2019

Locals in Madang Province affected by Ramu Nickel’s Basamuk refinery spill are calling for a third independent investigation into the spill.

A first investigation was conducted by the Conservation Environment and Protection Authority, and the second by an Oil Spill consultant from Switzerland engaged by the Madang Provincial Government.

Prime Minister James Marape recently announced in Parliament, a third investigation team will be put together headed by Deputy Prime Minister Davis-Steven to look further into the spill.

Up until today, the locals are left in the dark, as to what has become of this team and what their next course of action will be.

Local, Thomas Warr told NBC News from Madang, this is a very serious issue and must not be taken lightly by the Government as the people have stopped fishing and swimming- an exercise that has severely impacted on their daily livelihoods.

“We are scattered along the coast – it’s not one small village only affected therefore if anything happens at Basamuk, we all have no control over it.

“So something must be done immediately to address this.

“There must be some kind of compensation or something to keep the locals going while awaiting further reports,” Mr. Warr said.

Meantime, there is a lot of confusion and anxiety amongst the locals in the Raicoast and Madang districts following reports of the re-opening of the Ramu Nickel Mine by the Mineral Resources Authority recently.

Mr. Thomas Warr said though being given the green light to go ahead and fish and swim again, they have not done so and that they have completely lost trust in the Government departments supposed to protect the people and environment.

Mr. Warr said the villagers have been given conflicting advice from these different Government organizations involved in the investigations into the mine spill in August.

A 200-000 litres of toxic slurry had spilled into the sea, from the Ramu Nickel Mine’s Basamuk processing plant causing the sea color to change and allegedly contributing to the death of marine creatures a month later.

Approximately 30-000 people from the immediate areas of Astrolabe Bay to the border of Morobe are estimated to be impacted by this spill and the ultimate ban on fish consumption.

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Toxic spill from Ramu mine a threat to health, locals say

PHOTO: Two reports into the environmental impact of the spill have turned up conflicting results. (Supplied: Nigel Uyam)

Dateline Pacific | Radio New Zealand | 29 October 2019

People living on Papua New Guinea’s Rai Coast say a toxic spill from the Ramu nickel mine has killed marine life, destroyed livelihoods and endangered their health.

They also say the mining company has done nothing for the community apart from pollute it.

Ben Robinson Drawbridge has more.

The Ramu nickel mine has been temporarily closed by the government pending an investigation into the August spill in which 200,000 litres of toxic slurry flowed into the ocean.

Fishing is now banned in the area as Rai coast resident Amili Deide explains.

“The colour of the saltwater was turned to red. Now they stop all the catches, the provincial government, they stop the local people to get the fish because most of the fish are contaminated and the people are very afraid. Salt water pollution and all this so most of the people are not using the salt water to wash.”

The Rai coast has been declared safe for swimming, however, a community health worker from the Saidor health centre, Lynette Dawo, says people are still afraid of the ocean after some children went in to wash shortly after the spill.

“Kids went down to the sea to have their washing. When they came out they were screaming for their skin itchiness all over, and they had blisters all over. People just rushed over and told them to go to the river and to wash with the fresh water. Now we told all the kids not to go and wash in the sea.”

Ms Dawo says large marine mammals and fish have since been washing up dead.

“We encountered a very big dolphin. It just washed up on the shore to our own beach. A very big one. They buried it and reported it to the marine people. They came and told them to dig it up and when they dug it up they just cut off the intestines and take it away. And then we had a big turtle that died and washed up to the shore. And then another dugong died, washed up to the shore. And we had about 27 tuna, the very big ones, they all died same time and just washed up to the shore and people got them and buried them.”

Another Saidor resident, Norman Nayak, says fishermen and Rai coast communities that depend on seafood are now struggling.

He says these are the same people that welcomed the mine.

“We were all excited thinking it would be a change to bring development into the area. We were thinking that they would help constructing bridges and making improvement in the infrastructure there but nothing has happened so far.

“Recently with the spill-off, seeing the ocean getting red people were so scared and shouting ‘government has to put a stop to this mining’. It has brought nothing, no development to the locals.”

Lynette Dawo says people have become so frustrated they could retaliate against the miner.

“This company is one of the greediest companies, doesn’t provide anything good for the people. There’s no roads. Nothing good is done. There’s primary schools, we have two secondary high schools here but they don’t even support anything.

“Our health centre is run down, they are doing nothing. That’s one of the greediest companies working here in Papua New Guinea.”

The mine’s owner the Metallurgical Corporation of China has not responded to a request for comment.

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Ramu Nico Resumes Operations In Madang


Post Courier | October 29, 2019

The Ramu Nickel project is back in operation after being shut down for a week.

This comes after the Mineral Resources Authority (MRA), granted permission for Ramu NiCo Management (MCC) Limited, to resume operation of the neutralisation and surge tanks at E143 area of the Basamuk processing plant last week Friday.

This permission effectively allows the recommencement of operations of the Basamuk processing plant according to a media release by MRA yesterday.

The permission was given following satisfactory site verifications by mines inspectors on-site who have been monitoring and ensuring that the company was in compliance with statutory orders, given to rectify the defects as a condition of recommencing operations following the shutdown.

After the company shut down its operations on October 21, inspectors went no site on October 23 to inspect remedial works and compliance. The inspection ended on Friday October 25, when they granted permission to re-commence operations after observing satisfactory compliance to critical recommendations.

“There are other outstanding remedial measures which were not considered as part of the E143 area, but overall safety measures for the Basamuk processing plant. Such include, competency training for workers and regular risk assessment and risk management trainings.

“Furthermore, measures are in place to ensure any storm water or process water from the processing plant area are captured in the retention sumps and pumped into the tailings treatment and DSTP facilities,” MRA said.

“The inspectorate branch will continue to monitor the performance of the company as they had always been doing. Mine sites are some of the most hazardous and high-risk operational environments. The MRA can only do so much to minimise and mitigate incidences from happening but it all comes down to personal attitudes of workers towards safety, mining companies’ commitment to safety, and cooperation between operators and the inspectorate.”

Ramu NiCo Management (MCC) Ltd acnowledged MRA mines inspectorate for their guidance over the week to rectify the identified defects and granted order for the resumption of Basamuk processing plant.


“As a genuine investor, we try out best to comply and maintain the highest safety standards within the laws,” Ramu Nico said.

“For mines inspectorate to give us permission to operate after a week of temporary shut-down demonstrates the trust they have in us that we have built over the last ten years and we highly value that.

“We want to tell the people of Madang and PNG that Ramu NiCo is a reputable investor in PNG and remains committed to share the benefits from the Project with every stakeholder, including the national government.

“We thank our employees who have worked very hard with MRA to rectify all the remedial works.
“We thank our stakeholders who supported us during this hard time. We thank the national government and Madang provincial government to support us.”

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Troubled Gold Mine Sold to Local Landowner Company for A$100 Relaunched in Solomon Islands

Photo: Flickr/Jenny Scott

Sputnik News | 27 October 2019

The troubled Gold Ridge mine in the Solomon Islands changed ownership multiple times over the years and was shut down by its last owner in 2015 after severe flash flooding.

The Gold Ridge goldmine in the Solomon Islands was officially relaunched Sunday in Central Guadalcanal, reports Radio New Zealand.

The mine which is currently the property of a local landowning company, Gold Ridge Community Investment Limited, is less than an hour’s drive from Honiara across the Guadalcanal Plains and has stood dormant for the past three years.

It is now being redeveloped by the Chinese miner Wanguo International working in partnership with Chinese owned Australian developer AXF Group and local landowners in Central Guadalcanal.

Speaking to RNZ Pacific earlier in the week, a spokesperson for Gold Ridge, Allen Wang, applauded the new contract for the reconstruction of the mine by the China Railway International Group, emphasizing he believed China Railway “had the mining experience, construction expertise and Pacific experience to make a great contribution to the development of a world class mine in Solomon Islands”.

The contract signed by Honiara and China Railways involves two major phases.

The first phase includes an exterior mountain-stripping project followed by the installation of interior mining equipment and facilities.
The second phase includes the construction of roads, bridges, and a nearby reservoir along with dock facilities and a hydropower station.

The mine on central Guadalcanal, south-east of the capital Honiara, began operation in 1998, and at the height of its production in 2012 accounted for 20 percent of the country’s entire gross domestic product.

However, a succession of foreign owners and intermittent periods of closure due to civil unrest and environmental problems left a troubled legacy.

After Cyclone Ita and torrential rain damaged infrastructure and forced the mine to shut down in 2014, its Australian owner, Santa Barbara, sold the venture and its legal liability a year later to Gold Ridge Community Investment Ltd, a local landowner company for AU$100.

Shortly after St Barbara sold the mine, the Solomon Islands Government declared it a disaster area when a tropical cyclone filled the dam to capacity.

On 12 September 2019, the mine signed a deal with China Railway Group Limited of China worth US$825 million to build and lease a railway system and mining service station.

China Railway International announced the deal on its website’s notice board on the date it was signed, with parent company China Railway Group announcing it on 16 September, the day the Solomon Islands and Taiwan officially broke ties.

The contract is to last until March 2034.

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PNG’s Ramu Nickle Mine reopens

Inside the Basamuk refinery

FM 100 / PNG Today | October 27, 2019  

Ramu Nico’s controversial Basamuk Refinery Plant in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea is said to be back in full operation.

The company released a statement on Saturday 26th October 2019 stating that the Ramu Nico project is now back to full operation at Basamuk.

The Basamuk Plant was indefinitely shut down following an order by the Mines Inspectorate of the Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) on Friday, October 18, 2019 following the slurry spill.

The statement from Ramu Nico stated that some of the remedial works identified following the August 24 slurry spill at Basamuk Processing Plant were not certified by the Mines Inspectorate, prompting the temporary shut-down of the Plant.

But Ramu Nico’s statement further claimed that most of the remedial works have been completed successfully including E143 Neutralization and Surge Tank, a critical part of the Basamuk Processing system that inevitably shut down the Processing Plant for a week.

Based on the statement released by the company, FM100 News contacted the company’s public relations office if the newsroom could sight a copy of the formal notice from MRA, advising Ramu Nico that it could now re-open the mine.

But this newsroom was told, the formal notice to the company is a confidential document and can’t be released to the media, instead we were told, MRA and the Mining Minister will make a formal announcement soon.

Attempts to get a comment from MRA were unsuccessful, however Mining Minister Johnson Tuke when contacted today to confirm the statement by Ramu Nico regarding the mine’s re-opening, told FM100 News he’s not in a better position to comment today and will do so tomorrow (Monday 28/10/19) once he’s properly briefed.

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